Monday, 30 December 2013

The Fierce And The Dead - Spooky Action

Anyone who goes to rock gigs in London will be aware of Matt Stevens. He's that genial bear of a man handing out flyers to us queuing punters.

A man who deserves some return for his ceaseless hard work battling against the never ending onrushing tsunami of bands in this age of instant communication, Matt is no mean guitarist as his solo work attests.

That solo work is built around looping an acoustic guitar, and to be honest, it has have never grabbed me, what I need to hear is the impolite math-prog-beast that is his band, The Fierce And The Dead.

Spooky Action is the band's 2nd full length album, and there have also been three EPs, commencing with the debut, the sensibly titled Part 1 in January 2010.

A compact and tightly knit four piece, the band pummel the listener with unrelenting and intense heavy math-rock, the instruments locked together like the strands that make up a sturdy rope, one that cannot be unravelled. Like that rope the sum is greater than the parts, although each player demonstrates intuitive understanding of their instrument.

Beginning with the archly named Part 4, the pattern is set with math-guitar patterns leading to insistent loud chord sequences. This album has the feel of being meticulously planned as if plotted on a graph, while at the same time pulling off the admirable feat of being a loosely visceral slab of post-everything rock'n'roll. This is achieved to its best effect on Let's Start A Cult, a heady three and half minutes of formulaic perfection.

Prior to the album, Ark was floated as the lead off video, and it neatly sums up the math-prog-riffage on offer.

Brutal bass pounds out the intro to I Like It, I'm Into It as if its life depends on it. The tune crushes in the manner of a coming together of 80s Crimson and early Black Sabbath before the drugs stopped working, before changing tack to become briefly more restrained, ending in an ascending righteous guitar figure.

Parked logically in the middle of the album is the eerie ambience of Intermission 3, allowing the listener to draw breath for a while. However, the album is not all about hammering it to the ground; And The Bandit goes for a more laid back groove, coming over like a math-metal Wire in the process.

The Frippian interlocking cyclical guitar figure of Part 5 is wrapped round what sounds like a bass saxophone parping off the beat, albeit probably synthesised, and this leads into the final track Chief, a more melodic piece than what has gone before, although it doesn't take long before more angular math-riffs gatecrash the party.

The melody returns, but is bludgeoned to the floor by more pile driving riffage and dissonance, and if I have one criticism of this album it is that the sonics do become a bit wearying on the old lugholes after a while, purely because of the dominance of the harsh, nay Fierce (!) choppy riffing. A bit more variety in the way of more melody would not go amiss. I'll bet they're bloody loud live, too, but that ain't a criticism!

1. Part 4 (3:32)
2. Ark (4:03)
3. Let's Start A Cult (3:35)
4. Pyramid Hat (3:10)
5. I Like It, I'm Into It (4:06)
6. Intermission 3 (2:39)
7. Spooky Action (3:16)
8. And The Bandit (4:42)
9. Entropy (2:56)
10. Part 5 (1:50)
11. Chief (6:03) 

Line up:
Matt Stevens - Guitar
Stewart Marshall - Drums
Kev Feazey - Bass guitar
Steve Cleaton - Guitar

Get Spooky Action and all the earlier releases at Bandcamp 

Bulbs - On

Hailing from Liverpool, Bulbs released their debut album On roughly six months ago. I'm only writing about it now as it slipped through the net at the time, and I have become captivated by its individualistic stance. Yes, it is most certainly progressive, melding sci-fi prog, baggy electronic dance moves, classical acoustic wizardry, sound samples, math rock, and much more to produce a refreshing instrumental tour de force.

Neil Campbell is a highly talented classical guitarist, who, with the aid of loops, delay, and other knobs and switches weaves together layers of entrancing sound, the track Lantra being a fine example. Neil also plays the good ol' electric guitar with aplomb, have no fear.

Neil's other projects and his band The Neil Campbell Collective provide Bulbs with bassist Andy Maslivec. Drummer Joey Zeb has his roots in what is described in the blurb as "prog dub" and also plays with prog band Gorp and "dub hop" group The Corinthians. The electronics are brought to the table by Marty Snape, who should be the Mad Professor of the band with a name like that!

This esoteric combination of singular talents produce a fairly unique sound that sits somewhere between spacerock, rock-dance crossover, and angular prog. That latter description suits the fierce charge through the cosmos that is Future Cities, whereas the spacerock is to the fore on Frankincensed, which has hints of Magazine and very early Porcupine Tree chucked into the groove blender for good measure.

Always powered along by Andy's melodic bass runs and Joey dextrous drumming, if these songs don't get you tapping your feet, they've fallen off.

USA does a funky shimmy around an odd time signature, nailed again by the rhythm section, slower funky moves emerge on A Very Good Friday, and Neil's layered classical guitar gets another outing on the understated but marvellous album closer 3572 Off.

Unfortunately this album is not high profile enough in the sometimes insular world of Brit-prog to make many End of Year lists, which is a shame as it is musically accomplished, accessible, and, most importantly, cliché free. No lesser personage than Jon Anderson gives On the Accrington thumbs-up on the Burning Shed site; "wild and wonderful music" he calls it, and he ain't wrong.

1. Lament (1:55)
2. Frankincensed (4:47)
3. Majestic (5:56)
4. Injusa (4:03)
5. Illuminate (6:25)
6. USA (2:04)
7. Lantra (3:57)
8. They Control The Weather (5:29)
9. Switch (2:49)
10. Future Cities (4:49)
11. A Very Good Friday (4:38)
12. 3572 Off (5:52)

Line up:
Joey Zeb - drums
Andy Maslivec - bass
Neil Campbell - guitar
Marty Snape - electronics

Buy this at Burning Shed

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Quiet Sun - Mainstream

On downtime from working with Roxy Music, Phil Manzanera took the opportunity of the 26 days afforded him over a period spanning late December 1975 and early January 1976 to finally record an album with his pre-Roxy group Quiet Sun. Possibly because Mainstream was recorded without his label's knowledge, for as far as they knew he was working only on Diamond Head, it received little promotion, and maybe for this reason it went under my then youthful radar, these being decades before the instant info access era of today.

It was not until some ten years later that I bought this LP, and since then it has remained a firm favourite. When you consider the dozens of carbon copy unimaginative rock bands in the UK at the beginning of the 70s who were given contracts, even if only for one album, it is frankly astonishing that Quiet Sun were never snapped up.

The band evolved in 1970 out of Manzanera's college group Pooh and the Ostrich Feather - a wise choice of name change, methinks. They consisted of Charles Hayward, later a founder member of experimental post-punk combo This Heat on drums, keyboard player Dave Jarrett who later became a maths teacher, and bassist Bill MacCormick. After Quiet Sun, MacCormick joined his friend Robert Wyatt in Matching Mole, the latter fresh from leaving Soft Machine.

The influence of MacCormick's mate's seminal band can be heard in the music of Quiet Sun, especially in the tone of Jarrett's keyboards, and in their general jazz-based chops. What makes the difference is Manzanera's guitar, sometimes blazing a coruscating trail through the sky on tracks like Bargain Classics.

With tongues planted firmly in cheek, the album is called Mainstream, for it is a defiantly noncommercial beast. A mixture of jazz-rock, psychedelics and the unquantifiable otherness that any great album needs in order to stand the test time, the record kicks off with Sol Caliente, and the burning over-driven guitar figure is every bit as hot as the title suggests. MacCormick's Hopper-like fuzz bass launches the main theme and we're off! Through the quieter middle section Jarrett's keyboards paint a pastel picture behind which Manzanera's agitated guitar buzzes about looking for escape, which of course it eventually finds, bringing the song to a climax. A more than promising start.

Trumpets With Motherhood is a short keyboard based interlude with treated guitar. With Eno in the building it would have been daft not to use his talents on this record, but his input, while major on Diamond Head, is relatively unobtrusive here.

Structure arises out of the toy shop chaos of the initial percussion sequence of Bargain Classics, with another of those hypnotic keyboard figures Jarrett rolled out with aplomb. Dave Jarret turns in a really good performance on this album and in other circumstances could easily have ended up in playful rivalry to Dave Stewart and Alan Gowan. Bargain Classics is on a par with National Health or The Hatfields, it's that good. Making use of the three keyboard players the melody and counter melody weaves in and out of itself, with Manzanera's guitar also providing counterpoint. The rhythm section is intuitive with a lightness of touch that is just what is needed to compliment the front line.

R.F.D. slows things down and an electric piano via a Leslie speaker effect with synth flourishes provides a nice calming interlude. I've absolutely no idea what "R.F.D." stands for, by the way! Then comes the spectacular tune with possibly the best ever title in popular music, Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil. An aggressive and spiky little number where the guitar powers us along, we are left hanging on to that asteroid by the tips of our broken-nailed fingers. Definitely Phil's starring vehicle, the playing on this is about us un-Roxy as you can imagine, sounding like a learned older cousin of Khan-era Steve Hillage. Marvellous it is, makes you want to hit repeat as soon as it's over.

After the sudden ending of Mummy..., Trot slows the dynamic. An involving and confident keyboard led meander down a jazzy path, Jarrett again shows he was no slouch. Must be something in that surname! Waking us up from our reverie, the song ends with more stabbing guitar from an on fire Manzanera.

Another sudden ending and we're off into Soft Machine territory with album closer Rongwrong, but the band soon put their own stamp on that classic Canterbury sound. Written by drummer Hayward, who here sings the only vocal of the album where oddly enough he comes over like a cracked Robert Wyatt in the delivery. The clever lyric is possibly a tale of intellectual peer pressure and the ultimate need for companionship, and halfway through MacCormick delivers a fine accompanied bass solo that adds to the slightly introspective nature of the song. Sitting slightly apart from the rest of the album, Rongwrong shows where the band may have gone, given the chance.

For once the bonus tracks have some purpose as this is the only fully formed release by the band, but the purpose of this review is the main album, and it seems the CD version with the bonus tracks is increasingly hard to obtain. Suffice to say, if you can track it down it's definitely worth it.

Mainstream by Quiet Sun is thankfully no longer a "lost gem" as many still refer to it, and Quiet Sun were a missed opportunity for the music industry at the time and by 1972 they were no more. Thanks to Phil Manzanera's fame with Roxy Music, we have this fitting tribute to a highly talented bunch of musicians, and I for one will keep on going back to play it once more.


1. Sol Caliente (7:34)
2. Trumpets With Motherhood (1:47)
3. Bargain Classics (5:48)
4. R.F.D. (3:23)
5. Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil (6:00)
6. Trot (5:18)
7. Rongwrong (9:34)

Bonus tracks:
8. Years Of Quiet Sun (10:33)
9. Trot (original demo) (10:25)
10. R.F.D. (Warner Bros demo) (6:13)
11. R.F.D. Part 1 (Mainstream session) (2:24)
12. Talking History (interviews) (8:01)

Total running time - 76:57

Line up:

Charles Hayward - drums, percussion, keyboards & voices
Dave Jarrett - keyboards
Phil Manzanera -guitars, keyboards
Bill MacCormick - bass guitars & voices

Brian Eno - synthesizers, treatments and oblique strategies
Ian MacCormick - Back up voices

Phil Manzanera - Diamond Head

This is one of those records that has been with me in one form or another since its release in 1975. My first copy of this was on pre-recorded cassette, then came the LP, both of which I wore out.

When my disposable income allowed me to indulge in record collecting in a big way, I tracked down a pristine vinyl copy, the sound of which is simply gorgeous, better than the first CD version from the turn of the century. The last CD remaster that came out on Expression Records in 2011 however has done the sound the justice it deserves.

That this seamless beauty was recorded and mixed in a 26-day gap in Roxy Music's schedule at the tail end of 1975 through the beginning of 1976 before beginning a North American tour is quite astonishing, especially in an era when the rock heavyweights took a week to lay down a two note guitar fill, maan. Even more remarkable is that within this time frame he also recorded an album with his pre-Roxy Band Quiet Sun, unbeknownst to his record label! More on that later.

Manzanera penned all the music, and called in the kind of supporting cast most could only dream of; Robert Wyatt, Eno, John Wetton and Bill MacCormick contribute lyrics and vocals to five of the nine songs here. Manzanera's ex-Roxy colleague gets two, MacCormick, Wyatt and Wetton one apiece. The other four tracks of the original album are instrumentals where a marked Canterbury style gets shown how to flamenco by Phil's spicy electric Iberian guitar stylings, via South and Latin America, a result of his widely travelled upbringing. Joining Phil we have, amongst others, Wetton's bass, Roxy colleagues, all of Quiet Sun, and on bonus track Carhumba a trio of Nigerian musicians and South African trumpet legend Mongezi Feza star on an early foray into what would become known as world music. Oh, and not forgetting one Ian McDonald on bagpipes on East Of Echo.

I make no excuses for this review going down the dreaded "track-by-track" route, as a classic album like this deserves no less. And so, to the backing of a tune coming straight down a dusty track from a high sierra somewhere in an alternate universe, lacking only imagined castanets clicking away, Robert Wyatt gets to wrap his ever distinctive tonsils around a Spanish tale of derring-do and subterfuge from the Frontera. This is followed by the contemplative instrumental title track that unfolds like a waking flower in the desert, reaching full bloom under the sympathetic cultivation of Eddie Jobson's multi-tracked strings. Phil contributes a marvellous understated guitar solo, one of the few on the album.

Unusually for a solo album, the main man's instrument is largely used in an impressionistic manner, leaving the strength of the songwriting and arrangements to do the work. This highlights the lack of ego and pretence at large, something most solo albums of the era suffered greatly from.

Big Day, the first Eno song, sees the protagonist longing for home, in this case Peru, and for once Eno keeps it relatively literal, to an accompanying simple descending chord sequence. It is of course, quite sublime. "Oo-poo-Peru", indeed! The Flex is a dirty funk workout, starring Jobson's Stevie Wonder-esque clavinet and Andy McKay's sax, topped off with a dirty funk-fuzz guitar break from Phil.

Next up is Same Time Next Week, where John Wetton and Doreen Chanter duet on John's laissez-faire hymn to liberated 70s sexual mores, something of a follow up to the devil-may-care attitudes expressed in his lyric to Easy Money, penned only a couple of years before this. The music is a skittering jazz sand lizard chasing the tail of the much heavier Crim tune, topped off with a nice'n'sleazy guitar break from Mr M.

This is followed by the sublime Miss Shapiro, an immediately obvious Eno vocal and lyric. This and Big Day match anything on the "vocal" four of Eno's first five solo albums, before he stopped writing and singing those odd and oblique words, and ran with the ambient themes first expressed on Discreet Music, the odd one out of those first five, all much to our loss.

A typically surreal example of Eno word association, Miss Shapiro is one of those seemingly effortless left-field pop lyrics that he was so good at, and includes a doo-wop pastiche in the chorus that I swear goes "Chop suey, chop chop suey". If it doesn't, it should! Hidden away in the song there is even a reference to the world's longest running soap opera, BBC Radio 4's The Archers. Marvellous! Manzanera's handclap festooned tune to this is suitably throwaway, but timeless all the same. A veritable pop classic.

Lurking around in the studio were the rest of Quiet Sun, waiting to start the nightshift, so why not use them all together for once? This our hero does and adds Wetton's bass, Thompson's drums, Ian MacDonald's bagpipes and Eno's guitar treatments to the instrumental highlight of the album, the wonderful East Of Echo. A space rock opera from The Latino Space Agency, Cuban heels click to Phil's spidery guitar and Wetton's unusually funky bass as we head off into the cosmic dust to be greeted at the apex of our orbit by MacDonald's bagpipes fed through a synth patch, shards of otherworldly echoing guitar leading into the fade-in of Lagrima.

After the full-on epic treatments of its predecessor, Lagrima is a simple flamenco introduction on Phil's Spanish guitar, accompanied only by Andy McKay's oboe. In this dream home the heartache is over, the weary soul has accepted its fate. Without warning the initially upfront Alma crashes in, soon to establish its melancholy urban dislocation with Bill MacCormick's lyric and Phil's wistful tune. The redemptive and defiant outro ups the ante and rides out on another rare spotlight-grabbing moment from Phil; bloody glorious it is, too.

After Alma I usually stop the CD, as this is the proper end to the album. The bonus tracks are interesting, nothing more. Carhumba features some stellar guitar from Phil and great trumpet playing from Mongezi Feza, while Corazon Y Alma is a low-fi demo of snatches of tunes that would end up on Diamond Head, recorded by Quiet Sun as far back as 1971. This goes a little way to explain how Manzanera managed to record this album in such a short space of time and seemingly with little rehearsal, as it appears these are old tunes that Phil already had at least partly worked out in his head.

Diamond Head was Phil Manzanera's first solo album and it is the sound of a musician riding the crest of a wave of unfettered imagination. In my opinion it remains his best work outside of Roxy Music. Diamond Head is a joyous affirmation, and even all these years later it still sounds as fresh as a daisy. That's the wonder of the tundra!


1. Frontera (4:02)
2. Diamond Head (4:30)
3. Big Day (3:44)
4. The Flex (3:32)
5. Same Time Next Week (4:45)
6. Miss Shapiro (6:29)
7. East Of Echo (5:45)
8. Lagrima (2:35)
9. Alma (6:48)

Bonus tracks
10. Carhumba (4:48)
11. Corazon Y Alma (10:24)

Total running time - 57:35

Line up:
Phil Manzanera - guitars, keyboards, bass, fuzz bass, string synthesizer,
Robert Wyatt - lead vocals, timbals, cabasa, backing vocals
Brian Eno - backing vocals, guitar treatment, rhythm guitar, piano
John Wetton - bass, lead vocals, mellotron
Brian Turrington -bass
Paul Thompson - drums
Eddie Jobson - strings, fender piano, electric clavinet, synthesizer
Andy MacKay - soprano sax, alto sax, oboe
Bill MacCormick - fuzz bass themes, vocals
Charles Hayward - percussion
Dave Jarrett - keyboards
Ian McDonald - bagpipes
Sonny Akpan - congas
Doreen Chanter - lead vocals
Chyke Hainu - drums
Danny Heibs - bass
Mongezi Feza - trumpet 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

2013 - A year in review - Part Two

...and so, on to Part Two.

Djam Karet - The Trip
A 47 minute voyage into the cosmos. Catch it as it flies past on a meteor near you!

Not A Good Sign - Not A Good Sign
Heavy prog, but not at all clichéd. Bloody marvellous record!

Earthling Society - ZodiaK
Stoogian nightmares from a chemically foul northern estuary. Righteously ancient rock'n'roll!

The Stargazer's Assistant - Mirrors & Tides, Shivers & Voids 
Album artwork of the year encases this double 10" album from Guapo co-founder David J Smith. The sound of a slowly decaying ancient pine forest.

Leafblade - The Kiss Of Spirit And Flesh
You wont find better poetry as lyrics in 2013 than that contained within this beautiful piece of pastoral prog.

Juxtavoices - Juxtanother antichoir from Sheffield
An "antichoir"? "What's that?", you may well ask, and all I can say is that this album is unlike anything else that landed on my doormat in 2013. Avant-choral music, if you like. I do.

Mike Keneally - You Must Be This Tall
Highly accomplished quirky songwriting combined with brilliant but never flash musicianship make this a must.

Homunculus Res - Limiti all'eguaglianza della Partecon il Tutto
Clever and playful debut from Italian Cantabrians.

Ligeia Mare - Songs We Never Thought Of
Strange improvised oddity from way up in The Rockies somewhere. Quite compelling.

Thieves' Kitchen - One For Sorrow, Two For Joy
"Thieves' Kitchen is a place where classic English pastoral folk and prog influences meet with a modernistic sensibility" sez me. I'm not wrong.

Miriodor - Cobra Fakir 
I've only had the opportunity to give this a cursory listen so far, but from what I've heard it is shaping up to be another class release from these French/Canadian exponents of RIO/avant prog that is not at all scary, and hence accessible to all types of prog fans, as Raff says in her inimitable style.

Kayo Dot - Hubardo
Fearsome. That is all.

Ulver - Messe I.X - IV.X
The latter part of the year chucked a whole load of awesome platters at us, this marvellous album being no exception. Ulver have over the years progressed way beyond categorisation, and here they confound us yet again. This album is a 45 minute distillation of melancholy and sadness in musical form. Darkly beautiful.

I Know You Well Miss Clara - Chapter One
Another Indonesian jewel unearthed by Moonjune Records. Were it not for fierce competition from Soft Machine Legacy and The Wrong Object, this new twist on fusion would win the biscuit. Beguiling.

simakDialog - The 6th Story
Definitely a corking year for fusion, here's another, this time from a more established Indonesian act on Moonjune.

miRthkon - Snack(s)
Crazy mixed up music, with more tunings and time signatures than you can shake a fist at, including a cover of Fairies Wear Boots. what's not to like?!

Goldfrapp - Tales Of Us
Alison and Will reinvent themselves yet again with this lovely collection of tunes.

Empty Days - Empty Days (DPRP review soon come)
Highly musical in the most restrained fashion, and highly intelligent, Francesco Zago's imagination shows no signs of slowing down. Marvellous album.

Hejira - Prayer Before Birth
Only got this sent to me a few days ago, and it's playing as I type. Initially very impressive I must say, like a more agitated Tuung with pop sensibilities, or North Sea Radio Orchestra rocking out. I can thank Sid Smith's Best of 2013 lists for this one.

2013 was a year which saw the reissue industry aimed at those of us of a certain age, some of whom have more money than shelf space reach ridiculous proportions. This wallet extraction exercise was epitomised by the gargantuan Road To Red by King Crimson, a band, or should I say cottage industry, who in recent times have trawled their back catalogue like no other, chucking out tens and tens of live CDs, 5:1 remixes, kitchen sinks and plunger. There comes a point when even the most hardened Crim obsessive (me) says "enough is enough".  Luckily for Mr Fripp's bank balance there are still plenty out there who will continue to buy whatever is next off the production line. Ho-hum.

Definitely not ho-hum is Steven Wilson's sublime 5:1 knob twiddling on Yes's Close to the Edge, which wins my reissue banana, hypocrite that I am!

Archaeological find
Undoubtedly coup of the year goes to Cuneiform Records who released Robert Wyatt's '68, which for the first time collected all the demo tapes made by Wyatt after Soft Machine's 1968 US tour with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This is essential listening for anyone with a love of musical history in general and the Canterbury/Soft Machine scene in particular.

A vintage year that included the Family reunion show, the Steven Wilson Raven tour at The Royal Festival Hall, Van der Graaf Generator playing A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers, the Tim Smith benefit; but the best for me was the Five Years Of Kscope celebration at The Garage in London on 24th July. Pete would agree it was worth the back pain!

So, to sum up, despite family setbacks and loss, and a Springtime unsettling run in with rabid fandom and fragile egos, the unending stream of music, good bad and indifferent helped keep me sane through what has been a personal annus crappus. Roll on 2014!

Finally, thanks to all you folk out there who read my nonsense, without whom I'd probably still do it anyway. Merry Solstice & A Happy New Year!

Part One of this Festive beano can be found HERE.

2013 - A year in review - Part One

Music was one of the few things to keep me sane in a bloody awful year from a personal point of view, and these spinning discs were the good 'uns that got caught in the net. Of course, there's bound to be some really good stuff that flew right on by, but this is my bag.

Really, it's just an excuse for me to make another list, in very rough chronological order, with links to reviews. What I consider the ten jewels in the crown are in bold, and it was damned hard trying to decide what would make the cut.

This year I will split this thing into two parts, otherwise it could take too long for the page to load!

Guapo - History Of The Visitation
Kicking off the year with this fearsome racket, the post-Xmas Holiday blues were blown away by this hypnotically sinister slab of noise.

Farmers Market - Slav To The Rhythm
A fun and different take on jazz-fusion with mucho exotic instrumentation aplenty. A joyous little record.

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing
After following his career for over twenty years, it's great to see that "the boy done good", and here he delivers a highly polished and brilliantly played take on classic prog moves, aided by a great band, that was even better live. Surprisingly, I've not played it nearly as much as I thought I was going to, and his next move will hopefully take a new turn. Can a record be too perfect?

Herd Of Instinct - Conjure
Their sound beefed up by the addition of Djam Karet's Gayle Ellet on keyboards, the Herd magic up a fine slab of modern instrumental prog.

Amplifier - Echo Street
Rock Monsta! Album Of The Year contender.

Rock song of the Year

Taylor's Universe - Worn Out
Anything but, this is individualistic jazz-fusion tinged progressive music of the highest order.

David Bowie - The Next Day
A major surprise, and not just in the stealth bomber release tactics. Another contender. March was a bloody good month, it has to be said.

Henry Fool - Men Singing
Everything the Eno/Canterbury fan could want and much more besides. Lovely.

Baron - Columns
Post-rock and Ashra ambience only begin to describe it. Another product of the Brighton hive-mind.

uKanDanZ - Yetchalal
Ethiopian/Belgian jazz rock, anyone? If your feet don't at least twitch to this, you're probably dead.

Move! C'mon!

Soft Machine Legacy - Burden Of Proof
Jazz-fusion album of the year...possibly. Buy it!
We were there at the up to that point fabulous gig that was ended with John Marshall's collapse, and the last I heard he is recovering well. Take it easy, John.

Necromonkey - Necroplex
Not what you'd maybe expect from a combination of two members of Änglagård and Gösta Berlings Saga, and all the better for it. File next to Gavin Harrison & O5ric.

Jumble Hole Clough - Two Days In April
Lovely minimalist ambience lost in space and time...or North Yorkshire. 'Appen.

Half Past Four - Good Things
Rocky "pizzazz and wonderful energy". Jez said it all.

Humble Grumble - Guzzle It Up
Zappa meets Gong and the Hatfields in Budapest. Mad good fun.

Bulbs - On
Proof that you can be "prog" and come up with a different recipe. 

The Wrong Object - After The Exhibition
The other contender for jazz-fusion album of the year. It's a dead heat! Utterly brilliant and inventive from start to end. Buy it!

Sanguine Hum - The Weight Of The World
One of the torchbearers for the new Canterbury sound. Great songs, lovely instrumentation. They are damn good live too.

...still reading? Part Two can be found HERE.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Magic Band - The Musician, Leicester, 6th December 2013

My entry point into the alternate and wilfully singular universe once inhabited by Captain Beefheart was witnessing him and his post-Magic band playing a heavy space swamp blues take of Upon The My-O-My on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1974. A suitably mainstream entry point, I think you'd agree, it left me entirely unprepared for the more cacophonous records in his discography. Emboldened by hearing strange blasts of alien blues on John Peel's shows, and later when the punk revolution saw his name mentioned occasionally, I bought the albums from the Virgin years, and eventually Trout Mask Replica.

Although I certainly have a taste for the more avant end of the rock spectrum, or "chimps playing kazoos" as my mate would have it, I will freely admit that I have never got on with that most divisive of records, and to this day I struggle to understand it. Luckily I didn't let it put me off, and I've grown to love most of the back catalogue, apart from the dreadfully limp Unconditionally Guaranteed, ironically enough! So, when I saw this gig come through on my Farcebook newsfeed it was a must see.

The fourth of six UK dates sees the Magic Band appearing in the intimate surroundings of The Musician, Leicester, on a damp and cold December night. A capacity crowd of probably around 150 mostly male, mostly middle-aged blokes assembled to frug to the good Captain's strange tunes. Leicester, even jokingly referred to by us almost locals as "Lie-cester" gets the same treatment from John “Drumbo” French who also questions in a bemused fashion why a food compliment is spelled "Wor-ces-ter-shire Sauce", but pronounced "Wusster". Well, if anyone should be used to expecting the unobvious, surely it's a member of this particular musical grouping, methinks!

Anyone who has read of Beefheart's dreadful treatment of his band during the prolonged rehearsals/imprisonment/torture (delete as your conscience dictates) for Trout Mask Replica will find it quite remarkable that John French and Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston ever wanted to hear a Beefheart tune again, let alone play the stuff live. But play it they do, and then some, and with a palpable sense of enjoyment, too. Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley joined the band later and only stayed for a couple of years, probably getting out while he still could, and he completed the trio of original members of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band.

As soon as Drumbo opens his mouth to declaim My Human Gets Me Blues it is as if the Captain was among us. His voice, right down to the nuances of the snarls, the whoops and hollers, IS the Captain. It is an uncanny resemblance.

While Drumbo is unquestionably the leader, the ensemble playing is as tight as a nut, especially so on the seemingly completely illogical moves some of these tunes make. When let loose, lead guitarist Eric Klerks shows himself to be a fine player, as are they all, weaving in and out of the complex mathematical structure of the more avant songs in the setlist. Playing this anti-music with a nonchalance of a bar band playing Johnny B Goode for the 7015th time, the band make it look easy when it patently is not. Credit must be given to drummer Andrew Nive, who somehow manages to keep it all from flying apart.

On a more conventionally structured tune like Hot Head the band emit a powerful stomp, possibly in a floppy boot. When not declaiming or conducting the group, arms pulling forth crescendos and endings from the band, Drumbo is honking away on the sax in a free jazz stylee with more than a touch of the Ornette Colemans. The man also blows a mean harp, boy.

After the first set the band mixed with the audience near the merch stall, and they were all very approachable, Mark Boston being the most genial, posing for photos with fans and autographing CDs, like everyone's favourite uncle. It was an eye-opener seeing Drumbo, a few minutes ago the larger than life shamanic channeller of the good Captain, transform into the straight ahead John French as soon as he stepped away from the magic dust on the stage.

The second set commences with Drumbo doing what he started out doing all those years ago, with a fine charge or three round the drum kit serving as an introduction to On Tomorrow from Spotlight Kid. One of the highlights was the nearest thing in the set to a ballad, in spirit if not in sound, a sublime version of Steal Softly Through Snow, which is an example of Beefheart at his most poetic.

You can't play dem blooze without talking about a train, and Click Clack more than fulfills that particular obligation, chooglin' along at an insistent pace. All too soon the set is over, ending with a fine rendition of the classic declamatory lurch that is Big Eyed Beans From Venus.

The encore delivers a blistering take of Electricity, Drumbo stretching the syllables to almost snapping point in that remarkable Beefheartian drawl. Bonkers and brilliant. Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do saw Drumbo struggling with and eventually being defeated by the microphone set up for the mouth harp, while the band played manfully on. It was the only technical mishap of the evening, but it did nothing to spoil what was a thoroughly enjoyable night.

Finally...just why is Bat Chain Puller so darned expensive?

The Magic Band are:

Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley - guitar, slide guitar
Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston - bass guitar
John “Drumbo” French - uncanny vocals, saxophone, harmonica, drums, guitar
Eric Klerks - lead guitar
Andrew Nive - drums

Setlist: (approximate - a combination of memory and older setlists. Feel free to put me right!)
My Human Gets Me Blues TMR
Low Yo Yo Stuff cs
Diddy Wah Diddy
Hair Pie (Bass Solo)
Golden Birdies cs
When It Blows Its Stacks TSK
Hot Head DATRS
Doctor Dark LMDOB
Circumstances CS


On Tomorrow SP
(Opened with John French drum solo)
Alice in Blunderland TSK
Suction Prints SB(BCP)
Hair Pie Bake I TMR
Steal Softly Through Snow TMR
Owed T'Alex SB(BCP)
Click Clack TSK
Floppy Boot Stomp SB(BCP)
Moonlight on Vermont TMR
Big Eyed Beans From Venus CS

Electricity SAM
Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do SAM

Friday, 8 November 2013

Kayo Dot - Hubardo

In an event of near synchronicity it falls to me to review Hubardo almost a year on from vainly attempting to dissemble Scott Walker's Bish Bosch. That both Walker's and Kayo Dot's atramentous works are being dissected at the gloomiest and darkest times of the year is more than appropriate.

Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt apparently wanted their album Watershed to be a heavy metal version of Scott Walker's The Drift, a work of deliberate literary obfuscation and non-musical mayhem. According to Åkerfeldt "it proved to be impossible simply because his [Scott's] head is sicker than mine and I also love melodies and dynamics." Well, although Kayo Dot's Hubardo does contain melody, sometimes but not always buried beneath waves of furious instrumentation, and certainly is frighteningly dynamic, in the most extreme sense of the word, if there ever was a band that could put Mr Engel's works through an avant-metal mincer, it is Toby Driver's band of feisty brigands. 

If you haven't already guessed, if you listen to music purely for entertainment, then there is little point in reading any further, although this dark noise sure entertains me!

Formed ten years ago by multi-instrumentalist Toby Driver after the collapse of his previous band maudlin of the Well, Kayo Dot instantly made a name for themselves in avant musical circles by having their debut waxing Choirs Of The Eye released on no less a label than John Zorn's Tzadik Records. The group have not looked back since. Hubardo is their seventh album in a career that has been wildly adventurous and as uncompromisingly strange as it has been wilfully uncommercial. 

With a line up in constant flux, the only other member apart from Driver on this album who appeared on Choirs... being violin player Mia Matsumiya, the band have gone through several changes in style. With a wide range of instrumentation the band shift from ancient death-metal to soul-shredding anti-balladry, industrial soundscapes, incorporating classical music structures, jazz timings, post-rock stylings, and no doubt, the kitchen sink, all of which renders Kayo Dot nigh on impossible to pin down, thank your deity of choice! The constant through all of this has been Driver's never ending quest to find new paths of musical expression, his compositional traits rendering each album recognisable as coming from a certain place, and at the same time sounding utterly different from one another.

Never one to shy away from a surprise, an example being the delightfully atmospheric and quite odd The First Matter (Saturn In The Guise Of Sadness), coming as it does after the first five tracks of unnerving full-on intensity. First Matter starts from a calm and eerie perspective reminiscent of Faith-era Cure, and slowly builds in intensity to morph into an avant-ambient monster around a simple keyboard figure, growling low-end frequencies and subtle but thunderous percussion.

If we may go back to the start, "Hubardo" means "lamp" or "lantern" in the ancient magickal language of Enochian, and album opener The Black Stone shines dark light on the black mirror, squaring the circle in the form of a guest appearance by former maudlin of the Well screamer Jason Byron, who oh-so-slowly growls his way through a tale of Leviathan and "water enough for all", one stretched and gnarled syllable after another. The thing seems to last for an eternity, which was probably the point, and no doubt a wilfully strange choice with which to start the album, but not really my cup of tea to be honest.

You will probably know that I am no fan of growling, but this band somehow make me leave my prejudices at the door, as this music is far, far more than just death metal. In fact as I said earlier, there is no point in labelling Kayo Dot, they just are. I am not saying it is easy to get used to, oh no, but this music is more than worthy of a bit of suffering in its appreciation.

Charting the story of a meteor falling to Earth and its transformative effects on a lonely poet, the lyrics are epic storytelling in the grand sense, and would not have looked out of place had they been translated into modern English from newly discovered texts by Dante. Take this verse from Thief (see Bandcamp link above), as our disturbed hero brings home the rock, riven by guilt:

The stone he brought it home
beneath the secrecy of night
The thief cometh like the Lord
Into his house where it was stored
He crept into the dreams of the townspeople
Like a knife into a vein
Or a rope around a throat

Dramatic stuff, I think you'll agree, screamed out with increasing ferocity to such an extent as to become almost unintelligible. I'll admit this is where the cookie monster gets a tad OTT for me, but wait; suddenly the poet appears, and a verse in the middle of the song, marooned like a becalmed boat in the eye of a storm is crooned in a voice not a million miles away from Scott's. The poet is lost in introspection, as his "art stares back at him, a fount of living inspiration", before being overtaken by the maelstrom again, over which the brass blows like its life depends on it. This is hard work, but well worth the effort.

Even deep within the pit of unearthly gloom of the first five tracks there are highly musical moments such as the flute section in Vision Adjustment, and the neo-classical arrangement buried in the nightmare vision of the Mars Volta-like Zlida Caosgi.

When Toby sings and the growls cease, and the band climb down from the machine gun turret of sonic mania, a uneasy calm descends. Some relief, not necessarily "light", is needed, and this is brought by the aforementioned First Matter..., and continues into The Second Operation, the ensemble morphing into a jazz orchestra, mournful brass and reeds dancing with the achingly sad violin, across the still smoking sonic landscape. The song slows to a crawl as Toby croons the increasingly bizarre tale, the choir-like backing vocals adding to the calm in the eye of the storm. If the darkside is ever beautiful, this is what it sounds like. 

It was inevitable really, that the Floodgate would open and it did. The storm is back as our hero has let loose the flood that would be the end of all things, the saxes blowing in a corner of a demonic jazz club situated somewhere in the Seventh Ring.

The poet finds his dream and becomes the thing he wanted to be.
And He Built Him A Boat is a musical and lyrical redemption, another one of those otherworldly alt-ballads, and this time I could imagine Nick Cave singing it. Storms of Kevin Shields' guitars swirl around as counterpoint to the sheer longing of the vocal, a marvellous construct indeed.

Things get even more ethereal on Passing The River, the first half of this song being about as different in style from the album introduction of The Black Stone as it is possible to be. A lovely slice of post-rock balladry that Paul Buchanan would have been happy to have penned, the song makes its stately way downstream, until it is bludgeoned by some fearsome feedback and distortion riddled unaccompanied guitar work, eventually joined in disharmonious mischief by the rest of the band, howling like a collective banshee.

This 100 minutes of sonic defiance ends with the stunningly good 14 minutes of Wait Of The World, a weirdly dislocated prog-jazz-fusion workout by a group of lysergically enhanced Venusians that happened to catch King Crimson's Cat Food as it flew by on a radio wave, "entranced by the advent of oblivion". Sung, not growled, I hasten to add, and I consider they have saved the best for the end.

With Hubardo Kayo Dot have produced a masterwork for their tenth anniversary. The much used phrase "pushing the envelope" becomes irrelevant. This envelope has been burnt to ashes, the cinders are then used as tribal war paint by the group as they march off to destroy expectations and musical horizons. Hubardo is probably a sonic definition of the word progressive, in its most literal sense, and if you have a sense of adventure where music is concerned you NEED to buy this.

I wonder what Mr Driver listens to for fun?

Track listing:
1. The Black Stone (10:38)
2. Crown-In-The-Muck (8:54)
3. Thief (6:52)
4. Vision Adjustment To Another Wavelength (4:53)
5. Zlida Caosgi (To Water The Earth) (5:26)
6. The First Matter (Saturn In The Guise Of Sadness) (9:29)
7. The Second Operation (Lunar Water) (13:19)
8. Floodgate (7:23)
9. And He Built Him A Boat (7:28)
10. Passing The River (10:12)
11. The Wait Of The World (14:23)

Total running time - 98:57

Line up:

Toby Driver - voice, bass, synthesizers, organ, piano, Rhodes and percussion
Daniel Means - alto sax, tenor sax and clarinet
Ron Varod - guitars
Keith Abrams - drums
Terran Olson - flute, clarinet, alto sax, organ, piano and synth solo on Floodgate
Tim Byrnes - trumpet, horn in F
Mia Matsumiya - violin, synths

Guest musicians:
Jason Byron - vocals on "The Black Stone" intro
Jessika Kenney - backing vocals
BC Campbell - backing vocals
Randall Dunn - synth design

Buy direct from the band HERE as well as from all the usual digital places.

Note: Owing to the ludicrous pricing structure of US Postal, whose "service" sees fit to charge $35 for shipping a $32 vinyl album from the USA to the UK, I have reviewed this from a purchased download, as Toby tells me CD production is uneconomic for the band, much as it may have been preferable to us Europeans with more sense than money. Therefore I have not seen the artwork in its full LP cover sized glory. If the pdf's are anything to go by, it is a nicely put together package. So, if you don't mind paying that rather inflated price, go for it, if it's still available.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Camel - The Barbican Centre, London, 28th October 2013

For the first time on Astounded by Sound! I have a guest scribbler, in the guise of my good mate and long-time gig going companion Phil W, who knows far more about Camel than I do, so...take it away, El Phillipo....

Never underestimate the power of music to inspire, embolden and to heal. As Camel return to active service for the first time in a decade, there is huge cause for both celebration and relief. This is, after all, a moment many had feared would never come, not least due to Andy Latimer's well documented battle with ill health. If anyone can doubt the restorative power of music, then let this legendary musician and the extraordinary music he has created stand as powerful evidence that even when it seems that hope is fading, the call and allure of the creative process wields a unique potency.

Perhaps there is something quite magical about the timing of the return of Camel to the live arena. For fans who have long cherished this band and its remarkable achievements, the opportunity to experience The Snow Goose being performed in it's entirety for the first time since the mid 1970s seems to represent a wondrous collision between past and present, serving to emphasise the timeless nature of music of quality and passion.

It would seem that, with his typical humility, Andy Latimer has expressed his absolute delight to discover that not only has his loyal following from 'way back when' remained with him during some very dark days, but that their enthusiasm has not faded in any way. It's been a long time since the goose has flown!

Early indications that this was indeed going to be a very special evening became evident as I joined the pre-concert throng surrounding the merchandising stall. A group from Argentina had built a short holiday in London around attending the concert. Fans had arrived from various parts of Europe, the USA, but the long distance travel medal must surely go to a couple who hailed from Australia and saw this as maybe their one chance to see the group in such a special setting!

The merchandising van had only just arrived having been delayed due to the stormy weather, and a feeding frenzy ensued as the devoted wrestled to get their hands on the new re-recording of The Snow Goose. "The concert will begin in five minutes", heralded the announcer. Decision time; should I get the new CD now or risk it being sold out at interval? Fortunately a window of opportunity presented itself as a gap in the crowd opened up between two fans anxious to claim their seats, so the goodies were acquired.

In the auditorium the charged atmosphere was almost palpable. A man next to Christine and I declared that he felt almost sick with excitement and anticipation. The lights dimmed and the band took to the stage to a roar that would have raised the dead! Then.....and then......Andy Latimer strode out from the wings, guitar held aloft. He was greeted with a volcanic eruption of acclamation that showed no sign of abating after several minutes. Seizing a slight drop in the decibel level, he announced, "We'll, it's been quite while! Thank you. It's good to be here. At my age, it's good to be anywhere!"

The stage was set, the signal was given and the band launched into the familiar first notes of The (re-visited) Snow Goose. Would it simply be an exercise in 'spot the different notes?' Certainly not! We were treated to a sometimes comfortably familiar but by no means treading water expanded version that seemed to take on a new energy as its flight progressed. I am sure no one would have been surprised if Andy Latimer had levitated during any of his masterful solos during the piece.

The other members of the flight crew brought their own special talents into play and surely exceeded any previous expectations that this would be a very remarkable performance. Almost before it had begun the flight was over and the audience had but a short interval time to come to terms with the reality that they were indeed witnesses to an event that was so much more than just a gig.

The second set had to be very much a guessing game of not just what they would play but what they would omit from what is a huge catalogue of songs. The band opened with Never Let Go from the debut album, followed by Song Within A Song from Moonmadness. Then we were treated to a selection covering the group's entire career, ending with two songs from the last studio album, these being the very amusing Fox Hill presented with great humour by Colin Bass and an exquisitely rendered For Today.

Following this collection the band may have thought it was "Thank you very much and good night", but it was never going to end like that. Their reception onto the stage over two hours earlier was itself upstaged by the huge outpouring of love and joyous acclamation that was released by the audience, and our reward came earlier with Never Let Go that opened the second set, dedicated to the much missed Peter Bardens, and with the final hurrah in the form of an absolutely wonderful Lady Fantasy. Many of the audience seemed completely overwhelmed by what they had been part of as they filed out of the auditorium, and the air was heavy with emotion.

"Never give a day away. Always live for today." This had not been nostalgia in any form, but surely the rebirth of a proud legacy.

The Flight Of The Snow Goose: On board crew - Andy Latimer: electric, acoustic guitars, flute, lead and backing vocals; Colin Bass: bass, acoustic guitar, vocals; Denis Clement: drums, bass; Guy LeBlanc: keyboards, backing vocals; Jason Hart: keyboards, backing vocals.

The Snow Goose
The Great Marsh
Rhayader Goes to Town
The Snow Goose
Rhayader Alone
Flight of the Snow Goose
Fritha Alone
La Princesse Perdue
The Great Marsh (reprise)

Second Set
Never Let Go
Song Within a Song
The Hour Candle (A Song for My Father)
Tell Me
Watching the Bobbins
Fox Hill
For Today

Lady Fantasy

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

King Crimson - The Road To Red

He powered down the central hub for the weekend, locked the pod, and made his way down the long flight of stairs to the exit. By the street door and lying on the floor was a small envelope. He picked it up, turned it over to inspect it, but found no indication of its origin; indeed, there was no writing or typed text on it at all. He opened the envelope and inside was a small craft knife and a handwritten note. "For the shrinkwrap - use with utmost caution" was the sum of its content.

Curiosity roused, as usual he took the Metrobus home, which deposited him at the city transport hub at the top of his street. He then walked the short distance down the hill to the entrance to his block. Taking the opportunity to forgo the elevator he ascended the three flights of stairs at speed, the only exercise he got all day in the week, and, breathing hard he arrived at his apartment door. He passed the keycard through the lock and stepped into the hallway.

When he walked into the living space, there it was. He approached it in a state of nervous apprehension. Viewed from the left side it appeared to be black. He noticed that subtly changed as he looked at it from different angles. It spoke to him without a voice. He sat down cross-legged in front of it and stared deeply at it. He was vaguely aware of a passage of time, for a faintly gnawing hunger eventually forced him to leave it and make his way to the kitchen. As soon as he opened the fridge door he realised he was missing it already. Hurriedly, he grabbed a bottle of beer, opened it and threw together a cold meat sandwich, and then rushed back to the living space fearing it would be gone.

It was still there. Instantly discarding his untouched sandwich, he took a deep slug from the beer bottle, put it down and resumed his position of supplication, this time at a different angle, to see if another perspective would be illuminating. Again it tugged at his soul. He was compelled to pick it up, and passing it from one one hand to the other he noticed it bacame heavier and heavier, weighing down on his very being, crushing his spirit and lessening his will to live. After an aeon that can have lasted no more than a minute, and unbowed by its ennui inducing properties he put it down, just then noticing a small tear in the wrapping. He was nothing if not determined, possessed of an iron will, he refused to be defeated by it. He rose from his cross-legged seated position and went back into the kitchen to retrieve a pair of scissors.

Then he remembered the craft knife. Changing direction, he rushed to the coat stand by the front door where he had hung his jacket, seemingly in another era. He retrieved the envelope, tore it open and extracted the knife, while running back to the living space. He sat back down in front of it. The tear was no longer there. Panic rose through the very core of his being. His heart rate was increasing alarmingly. He picked it up again in his left hand and it stung like a thousand wasps, but he could not let go. Shaking with the pain that had subsumed his fear, he discovered that simply by transferring it to his right hand, all the pain went away. He put it down again and the slight tear had magically reappeared.

Taking a measured approach, and with a steely gaze, he gently inserted the craft knife into the enticing opening offered by the tiny rip. Later, he could not recall removing the shrinkwrap, but he did remember being suddenly filled with a surge of joyous wonderment as everything was revealed in its stark beauty.

Days later, he told his psychepractor "I remember very little, but I know it took a long long time. And when it was over, it had really only just begun". 

...Meanwhile, back in the real world, if you bought the 2009 40th Anniversary Red remix with the 5:1 DVD-A disc, and you already own the Great Deceiver box set and the Collectors Club CDs from this era, you should be more than sated already. After all, just how many versions of Starless does one really need? Over 20 apparently, and should Santa send me this exercise in excess for Xmas I won't complain!

Even more perplexing than this mammoth slab of audio largesse is the recent separate issue of yet another version of the Red album itself with a new stereo mix from Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp and a few bonus tracks. Of course, this "2013 Stereo Mix" is also included in The Road To Red box set, both in CD and Bluray formats, although I lost the will to live searching the thing for the bonus tracks on offer with this new separate CD issue. Some if not all of them are in the box, I guess.

Why issue this separately, exactly? Those of us without the fat wallets or the obsessive inclinations to buy the box set who already own the 2009 40th Anniversary reissue don't need it, so who is it aimed at one wonders? It all seems like milking the cash cow dry to me, but I suppose keeping three drummers happy to be with whatever they're happy with does not come cheap, just think of their dressing room cleaning bill, for starters! :)


Line up:
Get outta here!

But it from I Have More Money Than Sense And A Very Understanding Wife And Probably Need My OCD Sorting

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Thieves' Kitchen - One For Sorrow, Two For Joy

Why had I not heard of this fab band before reading my good friend Raffaella's review for DPRP? Who knows, but, casting my net far and wide on the endless seas of left-field music in my never ending quest for the new, I seem to have missed what is right under my nose. A case of not seeing the wood for the trees, methinks.

Right, that's enough metaphor stew to be going on with. Thieves' Kitchen are a UK/Swedish band, who because of their geographical spread are unfortunately unable to gig at the moment. I hope this changes soon, as I'd imagine that this intimate and thoroughly musical album would sound mighty fine being belted out live.

This is the band's fifth album since 2000, and in that time they have gone through several combinations of personnel, the only constant being guitarist Phil Mercy. Now down to a trio, the other two are Änglagård keyboardist Thomas Johnson, who played on the band's fourth album, 2008's The Water Road; and last but by no means least, singer Amy Darby, who has been lending the band her expressive but unaffected tones since 2003's third album Shibboleth.

For One For Sorrow, Two For Joy, the core members are joined by a very fine rhythm section in Paul Mallyon on the drums and Brad Waissman plucking bass, which goes some way to explaining a fleeting Canterbury atmosphere on some of the songs, coming as they do from that very fine modern Canterbury band Sanguine Hum. 

Completing the guest list is Thomas's Änglagård band mate Anna Holmgren on flute, cellist Tove Törngren, and trumpet player Paul Marks. More Änglagård connections are present behind the mixing desk, and you would be forgiven for thinking that this is going to sound like a Scandi-prog workout. While that influence is there it is by no means overwhelming. This band have been going long enough to be confident of their own rather special identity, expressed through Phil's soaring guitar playing and Amy's unforced and distinctive voice. 

Right from the first 16 seconds, starring Amy's reading of the nursery rhyme from where the album title originates, some individual but not too quirky stylings are apparent, stylings that make this album appealing to both the the lover of angular sounds, and to the connoisseur of more traditional prog fare. The rhyme reading heads straight into Deor, dominated by Phil's none too obvious guitar runs over Thomas's Mellotron backing. Amy's lyrics are highly poetic, dealing with the cyclical passage of time, and on the following Hypatia, cryptic allusions to fate and religious belief. The verses are structured in the vein of a jazz song, blending perfectly with highly skilled guitar runs.

An atypically "rock" riff forms the backbone of A Fool's Journey, but it is not straightforward and indeed is in 6/4, I'm told. Another treatise on fate and fortune with a historical bent and more than a hint of menace reflects the magpie nursery rhyme theme of both the album title and the lovely artwork, taken from woodcuts by Lisa Brawn.

Germander Speedwell, a flower steeped in folklore, continues the mystical leanings, and is introduced with the sound of a wind-up musical box and birdsong followed by the winsome combination of flute. cello, and acoustic guitar, evoking just the right atmosphere. According to legend, if you pick a speedwell your eyes will be pecked out by birds; "Damned are his eyes, the man who would try to pull up the bloom". This song develops along ambiguous lines as the pastoral backing wends its merry way. It is a truly beautiful thing.

The Weaver channels Sandy Denny era Fairport and illuminates the ease with which the band can transcend genre pigeonholing while effortlessly making the album feel complete and whole. The album ends with the slowly building and anthemic and rousing Of Sparks And Spires, a song that plays around motifs from English classical music, and features that most famous of prog time signatures, 9/8. What more could you ask for?

Thieves' Kitchen is a place where classic English pastoral folk and prog influences meet with a modernistic sensibility and some highly skilled composition and arranging to produce a charming and endlessly interesting listen.

1. One for Sorrow, Two for Joy (0:16)
2. Deor (7:51)
3. Hypatia (8:56)
4. A Fool's Journey (8:19)
5. Germander Speedwell (14:32)
6. The Weaver (4:33)
7. Of Sparks and Spires (12:49)

Total running time - 55:56

Line up:
Amy Darby (Vocals)
Phil Mercy (Guitars)
Thomas Johnson (Keyboards)

Paul Mallyon (Drums)
Brad Waissman (Bass)
Anna Holmgren (Flute)

Buy from Burning Shed

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Progstravaganza 14 is here!

Another 507 hours of free music from those industrious folks at Prog Sphere. There just ain't enough time!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Prog/Comics Correlation

Where A = Obscure Music Fan, B = Obscure Comics Fan

Me, I'm somewhere in the top left corner of A, but you lot in the middle need to visit this funky new place to get your obscure comics fix...

Borderline Press

You know it makes sense!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Read It In Books - Part One

...and magazines, and the "inkies" as they were affectionately known. Music for me is, as anyone who reads my nonsense must have worked out by now, an obsession. Even more so back in the days when that which came under the all-encompassing umbrella of "rock music" actually mattered to the teens-to-twenties generation.

This means that we of a certain age don't just listen to the music, we devour the printed word on the subject, too.

Here, I begin an occasional series of discussion, mini-review, call it what you will ("bollocks" perhaps?), of the countless thousands of words I have read on the subject of Mr Rock & Mrs Roll over the course of my many years on this planet. This will unavoidably be UK-centric, and there are obviously important books on The Noise I'm not even aware of, so feel free to make your recommendations in the Comments section at the end.

As a mid-teen I first bought what would soon become my Rock'n'Roll Bible, the New Musical Express. Back in those days there were three weekly black and white broadsheets devoted to "rock" as opposed to "pop" music. They were printed on flimsy newsprint, and the ink used to come off on your hands, hence the affectionate sobriquet "inkies".

If I may draw parallels between this triumvirate and UK newspapers, we had:

Melody Maker
(Rock) Establishment in outlook, looked down on its rivals, scared of change, worthy and somewhat dry in tone, never swore, dots its "i's" and crosses its "t's", this was the Daily Telegraph. Note for non-UK readers - the Daily Telegraph is read by those who always have and always will run the country, even when The Guardian's natural followers think they are running it.

Brash, anti-intellectual, populist, swore a lot, no sense of irony, right wing, shouty, probably supports Chelsea. The only thing missing was a naked woman on page three. The Sun, obviously. Note for non-UK readers - Sun readers do not care who runs the country, as long as she gets her baps out.

New Musical Express

Gratuitous nudity...but it's OK because they're feminists
The NME to its readers, this was the oldest and first music magazine in the UK, but little more than a Vanity Fair for the UK music industry in its early 1960s incarnation. It even had its own massive annual awards concert.

Sometime around the late 60s and early 70s, and before I bought it regularly, inspired by the likes of Rolling Stone, Creem, Oz and IT, the title underwent a radical overhaul and became hipster friendly, increasingly left wing, radical, and later into the 70s, up itself. I was going to use the word pretentious, but "up itself" conveys the intended meaning far better! Add in annoying and posturing, and pseudo-intellectual. The latter description meant its swearing and put downs were oh-so-tongue-in-cheek, to point where I sometimes threw it down in exasperation.

It was by far the brashest and boldest of the three, and I loved it. It was of course, The Guardian. Note for non-UK readers -The Guardian is written and read by those who occasionally think they do run the country, only to drown in good intentions and a stiflingly politically correct attitude, while Daily Telegraph readers smile knowingly, sat in their private clubs, snifter in hand. 

From being a callow proto-youth and onwards I was steeped in the writings of Mick Farren, Charles Shaar Murray, and to the most extent by Nick Kent, the UK's very own Lester Bangs, a man who wore his excesses and bruises as a R'n'R badge of honour. All of these three to a greater or lesser extent took the rock star lifestyle as a given, in Farren's case legitimately as he came from the agit-prop hippy music scene, and played and released records with, amongst others, his own band The Deviants and The Pink Fairies. Farren was the reverse of the truism that all rock writers are wannabe musicians. 

Slightly later, the Stalinist revisionism of Tony Parsons, and the trouser-wearer in their tempestuous relationship, Julie Burchill, suited the punk goings-on perfectly. The "up itself" pseudo-intellectualism referred to was personified in the post punk era by Ian Penman, a very annoying bloke who could write hundreds of words of self-referential Clever Trevor bollocks without once mentioning the music. That was probably when I started falling out of love with the rag. 

So, let's have a look at three books by or about rock journos...

Nick Kent - Apathy For The Devil

Nowhere is that old wannabe musician adage more true than in the case of Nick Kent, who it seemed was either very briefly in, or about to join, nearly every significant early punk band. Prior to punk Kent was allowed into the inner circles of the "TV through the 20th floor window" crowd of 70s excess, in particular The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin camps. 

Kent frequently indulged in more substances than the people he was writing about, and often more than met his match with his mate/idol Keef, and has also been the cause of many fights. As he is built like an emaciated pencil he has therefore lost as more fights than Frank Bruno.

On a serious note, along with Charles Shaar Murray and Ian McDonald, Kent turned the NME into a force to be reckoned with, another marker that makes our first book to feature here a must read.

I think I read it in two sittings, so I heartily recommend it. A collection of Nick Kent's writings, The Dark Stuff should be a good read too. I don't own this one, as I read most of his NME writings at the time, but I probably should get it!

Jim DeRogatis - Let It Blurt: The Life And Times Of Lester Bangs

Of course, there would be no Nick Kent as we know him without the daddy of 'em all, the one and only Lester Bangs. With Creem and later Rolling Stone Bangs changed rock scribbling forever. 

With his speed-freak-at-the-typewriter stance, Bangs introduced the music fan to gonzo journalism, channeling Hunter S Thompson and Jack Kerouac through the visceral outpourings of Iggy Pop and Moby Grape.

This biography chronicles his too short life in an honest and poignant fashion, telling the tale of an obsessive doomed romantic in an alternately sad, funny, but ultimately humane and reverential fashion.

Obviously this is THE must read for anyone wishing to take up the metaphorical pen in pursuit of The Noise. Read it in conjuction with Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung and Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste, both unputdownable collections of Bangs' writings.

Charles Shaar Murray - Shots From The Hip

When I tired of Nick Kent's louche demeanour and so-hip-it-hurts attitude in the NME, I would always search out the articles and reviews written by CSM, as he was known. 

More down to Earth than Kent but still living it large in the rock'nroll world, and not adverse to the leather trouser himself, and another disciple at the altar of Mr Bangs, CSM had a way with his descriptions of live gigs that made you feel like you were there. 

This, an introductory line to a review of an Ian Dury And The Blockheads gig from 1979 - " "Good evnin' I'm from Essex..." The Hammersmith Odeon is soft and warm and awash with beer and love" tells the reader all they need to know.

It has been said that CSM is being somewhat revisionist in his still burgeoning hate for anything "prog", a stance that shone through in the very personal and as a result very hit and miss The Seven Ages Of Rock TV documentary series. Well, having picked up this book for the first time in years, I can safely say he has never particularly liked the genre, as this review, in its entirety, from Oz magazine in 1971 testifies:

Yes - The Yes Album 

"Yes? Maybe."

More to come...
PS - E&OE as Blogger spellchecker refuses to work! :)

2019, the insanity grows...

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